Essential tremor is a common disorder, characterized by shaking that is unrelated to other neurological conditions or medical issues. Essential tremor is not dangerous, and does not bring about any other medical conditions, but it can have significant impact on quality of life. Armed with the facts, sufferers can find support and guidance for this simple but sometimes debilitating problem.
Defining Essential Tremor
Essential tremor is trembling of the hands, and sometimes of the voice and head, that occurs on its own, and is not the result of another neurological condition. It is sometimes described as an “intention” tremor, because it usually occurs when the hands are active.
The International Essential Tremor Foundation estimates that one in 20 adults over 40, and one in five over 65, suffer from essential tremor.
Getting a Diagnosis
It’s important to be certain that your shaking is not a symptom of another issue. There is no test that can determine if you have essential tremor, but tests can rule out other conditions that cause trembling, like Parkinson’s disease.
One important difference between Parkinson’s tremors and essential tremors is that Parkinson’s disease sufferers generally tremble most when their hands are at rest, while essential tremors occur with exertion. While essential tremor can occur in any part of the body, it is most often seen in the hands, head and voice. It usually begins in one hand, then gradually affects the other, and can include a nodding of the head in a “yes” or “no” fashion.
Your doctor will ask you about any history of tremors in your family, as about half of all cases come about because of a genetic mutation. If one of your parents has essential tremor, your chances of developing it are about 50 percent.
Prepare a list of any medications you’re taking, and any previous injuries, especially head injuries. This will allow the doctor to rule out any possible other causes of tremor.
The neurologist will give you a basic neurological exam, and may ask you to complete certain tasks. Blood tests may be needed to rule out other causes like thyroid disease.
Living With Essential Tremor
Tremors can affect handwriting and can make it difficult to hold a glass or pour. Because it can affect your voice box, it can also make speaking difficult.
Essential tremor can be aggravated by stress, fatigue and temperature extremes. Avoiding these situations can greatly reduce tremors. Caffeine can also contribute, so consider eliminating it from your diet.